2020 04 12 PM – Easter Sunday – Matthew 22:23-33 – Resurrection – Not a New Testament Invention!

Dear friends,

I am sure it came as no surprise to anyone that this morning’s sermon was about the resurrection.  And I am also sure that if any of us had been asked beforehand to guess what the sermon text was likely to be, our second guess, after one of the gospel res accounts, would surely have been 1 Cor. 15.  And that is because 1 Cor. 15 is the most detailed, plain, and comforting passage about the resurrection in the whole Bible.  So it was lovely to be reminded again about resurrection as victory!

And one of the points that our brother Brett made was that the resurrection is spoken about as a ‘mystery’ in 1 Cor. 15 because while resurrection is taught in the OT, it took the resurrection of Jesus and the completion of the NT for the fullness of what resurrection means to become plain.  And this is what I want us to see this afternoon.   I think that many of us will be surprised by just how much the OT teaches resurrection.  And we won’t even look at all of the passages that do this.  But what we will also see is how the resurrection of Jesus and the NT fill open up these OT passages. 

And our text today is the perfect starting point.  For while we find this episode in the NT, it really is an OT context because Jesus had not yet died and risen and the NT was not yet written. 

So what we want to see today is that resurrection has always been the hope of God’s people.  And we will see this by beginning with the Sadducees’ question and Jesus’ OT answer.  Then we will look at some other OT passages that teach the resurrection.    And hopefully at the end each one of us will confess that we know the comfort and hope of the resurrection.

  1. So first of all, let’s consider the Sadducees’ question and Jesus’ OT answer.
    1. The Sadducees were the religious-political opponents of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.  And one area of theology where the Sadducees and the Pharisees differed was that the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection.  They believed that when a person died, they simply ceased to exist.  So as they saw it, when Messiah came, He would live on earth with whoever was still alive then.  But those who died before then simply ceased to exist.  And you may have heard the joke that goes like this: Are the Sadducees the ones who do not believe in the resurrection?  Yes, that’s why they are sad-you-see!  And all joking aside, it is very sad that anyone would not believe in the resurrection. 
  • And the style of the question that the Sadducees asked Jesus is what historians describe as a question of vulgarity.  And vulgarity means rude or offensive.  It was not a question designed to seek an answer, but to offend and/or make someone look stupid.  It usually involved some sort of rude situation, but the person asking it believed that the answer was so obvious to everyone that the person being asked the question would seem like a complete idiot.  A rough equivalent today would be those questions that people ask, where before you even answer, they go Duh!  And I am sure we have all been on the wrong side of such questions.
  • Now, while this question was addressed to Jesus, it was really aimed at the Pharisees – the religious political opponents of the Sadducees, who believed in resurrection.  So, perhaps because they had had success with what in their minds was a brilliant, unanswerable question before, they put it to Jesus to see where He will fall out on the issue – if He held to some form of resurrection He was in the idiot Pharisee camp but if He rejected resurrection then the Sadducees could claim Him as one of their own. 
  • So, they asked their question.  And in their minds it was the perfect question to show how stupid the idea of a resurrection is.  Surely, since a seven-times widowed woman could not belong to each of her seven husbands after being resurrected, the resurrection can not be true.  And for them this was a mic-drop, thug-life, stick it in your pipe and smoke it, gotcha, Duh, moment!  You can feel how amazed they were at their sheer brilliance ooze off the page. 
  • But while this question might have stumped most Pharisees, it didn’t stump Jesus.  And it didn’t stump Jesus because He knew His Bible – the OT.  Notice though that this was not just some academic, theological debate, for Jesus.  This was about knowing God, as the beginning of His answer made clear.  He said, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” 
    • And it’s worth reflecting on these words even before we consider His OT answer to the resurrection question.  For what Jesus made plain is that it is the right understanding of Scripture that leads to the right knowledge of and relationship with God.  The Sadducees’ wrong understanding of this doctrine at best limited their doctrine of God and at worst kept them in unbelief.  So we never do Bible study just so we can win a Bible quiz; we do Bible study to grow in our understanding of, our appreciation of, and our love for God, in terms of who He is and what He has done and is doing for us through Jesus Christ.  And we must keep that in mind when we read our Bibles at home, or go to a Bible study, or sit under the preaching of the Word – what does this passage tell me about my God?  Power?  Love?  Holiness?
  • But let’s look more loosely at the Sadducees’ question.  They based their question on Deuteronomy 25.  In OT times, among the people of Israel, the widow of a dead man was required to marry his brother (or a near relative).  And this was done to secure land inheritance and the family name.  It was part of the ceremonial law of Israel.  We find an example of it in the Book of Ruth.  So the question was about something that the law required, even though it was an extremely unlikely scenario.  But the question went wrong in v28.  That’s where they asked whose wife she would be in the resurrection?  For that is where they left what Scripture says and added in their own assumption, which was that marriage continued after resurrection; that the next life was pretty much like this life, in that men and women would still need one companion and helper and protector, etc.
    • But as we look at Jesus’ answer, what they needed to see was that marriage, as wonderful as it is, was designed for and given for this life, but is not needed in eternity.   It is here on earth that we need the companionship that marriage provides.  And here there is a need to multiply and fill the earth with children.  But those things will not be needed in the new heavens and the new earth.  In heaven, right now, there is a fixed number of angels who find their joy in companionship with Christ and all the other angels.  And after the resurrection, there will be the fixed number of all God’s elect, who will find their joy in companionship with Christ and with all of the elect ones in a way that is far better even than marriage.
      • So by God’s design, marriage is supposed to be the most excellent and precious relationship that a human being can enjoy.  And I hope all of you who are married are saying Amen preacher!  But all our relationships in heaven are going to be a 1000 times better than even the best marriage!
  • And to show them that their theology was wrong, Jesus referred to Exodus 3:6.  That is when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” 
    • Now, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were long dead when God spoke to Moses.  So if there was no resurrection; if a person ceased to exist when they died, what God would have said was I was the God of Abraham when He was alive, and I was the God of Isaac when He was alive, and I was the God of Jacob when he was alive.  But what God said was, “I am the God of Abraham,” etc.  So Abraham had not ceased to exist!  Though he died, he still lived in relationship with God. 
  1. And so, Jesus biblically demonstrated the reality of the resurrection from Exodus 3:6.  And yet, I am sure you can see that that still left a lot of unanswered questions: How does Abraham still live?  In what form?  What about those before Abraham?  What about those who are not God’s covenant people?  What about Abraham’s body?  And what does all this mean in relation to the coming of Messiah?  Well, as we seek a fuller understanding of resurrection, let’s look next at several other OT passages that also teach the resurrection.
  1. And some of these do this implicitly and some explicitly.  Let me explain what that means for you boys and girls.  If your Mum said to you, “I really love a clean bedroom,” what is explicit is exactly what she said – she loves a clean bedroom.  But I think if you heard her say to you, “I love a clean bedroom,” you would know that she  wants you to clean your bedroom, even though she didn’t say “Go and clean your bedroom.”  So sometimes there can be an implicit meaning to words as well as what the words explicitly state.  And this is like that with teaching about the resurrection.  Some of the passages we look up will say something explicit or plain about resurrection, but other passages will imply resurrection.  
    1. And our first passage is an example of implicit resurrection teaching from the OT.  Turn to Genesis 2:17
      1. God had created Adam and He said to Him, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.”  So at that moment Adam was spiritually alive and death was not a part of his future.  But we all know that Adam ate from the tree.  And on that day, he died, spiritually, and he would one day die, physically.  So death now hung like a dark shadow over Adam – he was spiritually dead and one day he would die.  
      1. So turn now to Genesis 3:20.  God had come to Adam and He had cursed the serpent and Eve and Adam, but also promised that a child of Eve would crush the serpent, essentially calling on Adam and Eve to believe in Messiah Jesus.  And in v20 we read, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.”  Do you see it?!  Adam understood that because of the promised child, he had spiritual life again now, by faith, and the hope of life after death. 
      1. But I hope you can also see that we know this only in the light of the NT.
        1. For example, Jesus spoke with Nicodemus in John 3 about being born again by the Spirit – that is spiritual resurrection, becoming spiritually alive. 
        1. And Jesus said to thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  So when he died, the soul of the thief went straight to be with the Lord.  And that is what happens to all those who die in faith. 
  • But the next OT passage I us to think about is Gen. 22 and the almost sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.  And if you know that story you don’t need to turn there.  You will remember that Abraham was one second away from plunging his knife into Isaac and ending his life, despite Isaac being God’s promised heir to Abraham, when the angel of the Lord called out and told him not to.  And Hebrews 11:19 explains Abraham’s thinking as he prepared to kill Isaac.  We read, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead.”   So OT Abraham believed that God could raise the dead!
  • But now turn to Psalm 16:10-11, which is explicit about the resurrection.  For here David spoke about his own resurrection confidence: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.  You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  So David knew that his grave would not be his final resting place.  He had a hope in life eternal beyond the grave.  And while we are in the Psalms, turn to Psalm 49:15.  David has been speaking about Sheol, or the place of death, as what awaits wicked unbelievers.  But of himself, David says, “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.”  So again, David believed in life after death.
  • But let’s look next at a passage in the prophets that is also repeated and made more explicit in the NT.  Turn with me to Isaiah 25:7-8
    • And what is often the case with Isaiah’s prophecies is that they have multiple fulfillments.  So he spoke first to the people of Israel in terms of return from exile; they would experience invasion and death but the Lord would bring them back to Jerusalem and the temple.  But his words were also about the first and second coming of Jesus.  We read, “And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.” 
    • And that prophecy is repeated and made more explicit about resurrection in Revelation 21:3-4 where John speaks about all God’s people being with Him in heaven: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 
    • So Isaiah 25 is another part of the OT teaching about resurrection; read alongside the NT it speaks of a life after death when there will be no more death!
  • Well, as we draw to a close, I want to read out for you three more short OT passages that speak quite plainly about resurrection.  Just listen to these words:
    • Isaiah 26:19 says, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.  You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!”  That’s pretty plain, isn’t it.  The grave is not the end!
    • And now listen to Daniel 12:2: “And the multitude of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”  You can’t get much plainer than that, can you!  A general resurrection and a Day of Judgment!
    • But now listen to Job 19:25-27: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes– I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!”  Isn’t that a magnificent confession of resurrection faith?!

What a contrast with the belief of the Sadducees that when you die you cease to exist!  What a hope-less existence.  And sadly, it is what many people also believe today.  And do you see the difference between what Job believed and the Sadducees and many people today believe?  Jesus spelled it out – “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”  Job knew his Bible and God was Job’s Redeemer.  Job’s God was powerful enough to bring life after death.  And Job believed this even though he only had the OT and the promises about a coming Messiah.  We have Jesus who has come and died and risen again.  We have the plain and complete Bible – OT and NT together.  We have 1 Thessalonians 5:10: “Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep (which means alive or dead), we may live together with Him.”  Believer, if you live with Jesus today, then know for sure that your soul will live with Him after death, and your soul and body, after He returns, forever.  Amen!